Monday, February 9, 2009


I'm trying to slog through the stimulus bill, and between the different versions, I've gotten through about 2/3 of it. Through page 122 or so, I've compared the first Senate version with the amended version. I wish I had more expertise, or even experience, in this area. I probably sound like an idiot to my lawyer friends. Still I have a few observations:

Economically, Krugman takes the words out of my mouth. Or puts them in my mouth, I suppose, since since he has a Nobel prize in economics and I can barely balance my checkbook. At any rate, everything he's written about this bill's weaknesses makes sense to me. Except that I don't think any amount of salesmanship on Obama's part could have gotten the bill we need through the senate. The bill we need probably would have imploded and festered like the last attempt at immigration reform. The November elections didn't fix all of the broken elements of our political system. Or even convince the small government idealogues that their theory has its flaws.

Speaking of those adorable republicans, I still can't find this "pork" the GOP is screaming about. It's not there, and those senators know it, but they throw the accusation out there to make it sound bad. It's a rallying cry for the kool-aid drinkers. They get away with it because most people flunked civics and don't know what "pork" really means. It doesn't mean "spending." It means some item in the bill that benefits just one representative's district or one senator's state. These projects, even without the factor of campaign donations, assure relection by constituents happy that their rep is bringing home the bacon, so to speak. It's objectionable because it's paid for federally but only benefits people in that state or district. Somebody tell me where that is in this bill. Seriously, where? I'm not a genius, so point it out to me.

Perhaps the HuffPo editors had a similar thought. I noticed that on their "help us read the Stimulus Bill" page--the page that motivated me to do this--they finally changed the question from "watch for anything that looks like pork or wasteful spending" to "Then again, this is not all about waste. If you identify items that lack enough funding to be effective, please identify those cases as well. The point of the bill, after all, is to inject money into the economy to put people back to work." I was glad to see that, but the problem is that very few of us know how much is sufficient. Including the senate, apparently. Even the people who are supposed to know something are scratching their heads. Like Bob Herbert and so many others, I believe Obama is one of the smartest, most confident people in this country. I can't think of anyone else better equipped to take on these challenges. But watching tonight's press conference, I think he's lacking for answers and he knows it.

Which brings me back to the bill itself. How were these appropriations--both the proposed figures and the revised ones--arrived at? Were the proposed amounts arbitrary? If so, then they probably deserve to be arbitrarily cut. But if they were based on real estimates of how much funding various agencies could put into use in the next year in a way that would save or create jobs--doesn't cutting them just leave the job half finished? The best way to waste money on a project is to underfund it. That's something a lot of us can probably understand from our jobs. When you have a budget that's just unrealistically small, your project tends to have problems, drag out longer, and often ends up more expensive than if you'd budgeted more in the first place. Of course, that's just great if your real goal is to be able to look back in four years and say, "See! Government can't do anything right!" I'm not saying, I'm just saying ...

One last ramble in this long ramble about a long ramble: I notice that the proposed additional funding for the Department of Defense was not cut at all in the revised bill. Not a penny. When just about everything else got at least a little slice taken off. Coincidence? Based on a careful analysis that shows those programs are more necessary or will put more people to work? Somehow, I don't think so. Show me said analysis and I'll back off. But my hunch is that it's because these cuts--all of them--are political, not practical, and no one wants to be accused of de-funding the troops. What about de-funding schools, nurses, firefighters, police officers? What about de-funding food stamps for the millions of unemployed? Why isn't that an accusation to fear?

It's going to be a long climb out of this hole. If reading the stimulus bill seems like a long slog, it's got nothing on what's shaping up to be the reality of the next few years.

No comments: